Security measures expanded in Ascension Parish Schools

Lisa Yates @Lisa_editor
Ascension Parish Schools Superintendent Patrice Pujol addressing the new security plan at the press conference Monday in Gonzales.

After the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and Ascension Parish School Board have teamed up to expand security at area schools.

Superintendent Patrice Pujol and Sheriff Jeff Wiley unveiled details of a new security plan during a press conference held Monday at the Sheriff’s Training Center in Gonzales. They said the new plan is scheduled to go into effect April 1.

Superintendent Pujol said the plan is a three-pronged program which includes increasing police presence in schools; evaluating school safety procedures and facilities; and, putting together a training program for teachers, students and staff which includes an awareness campaign called “Don’t let schools be victims of violence: Step up and Stop it.”

Sheriff Wiley said one facet of increasing police presence at area schools involves replacing school resource officers with school security officers.

“The SRO was a good model, but we’re going to bump it up with the school security officer model,” he said.

He said the new school security officers will be better trained in advanced tactics such as firearms.

Sixteen of these highly-trained deputy sheriff’s will be deployed in teams of four at each of the area’s secondary schools, rotating out every two weeks, according to the sheriff.

“We want to keep them fresh, on-task, moving, not unlike special detail,” he said, adding this give the officers a better understanding of each of the school facilities for an improved response in the event of an emergency.

Beginning on the first school day of next year, an additional four officers will be hired to cover the middle and primary schools. A fifth officer, Ascension Parish Staff Sergeant Coy Daigle will supervise.

These traveling officers will have a marked blue and white police unit which is to be parked visibly at each of the schools they are visiting. Although they have a police vehicle, they cannot take any calls outside of school grounds.

Cost of the additional officers will be split between the sheriff’s department and the school board.

Superintendent Pujol said the district is working with a security consultant to conduct a strong needs assessment. She stressed the importance of being proactive in working to improve school and student safety.

Pujol said security cameras will be used to monitor activity at all high schools; and, video cameras are also be installed at all middle schools.

The superintendent said communication is critical to school security, so the district is re-examining every piece of equipment it has in order to determine if an upgrade is necessary. Currently, every every principal in the district has a walkie-talkie to communicate directly with law enforcement, according to Pujol.

Although the new equipment will cost extra money, the superintendent said she couldn’t address the financial burden these extra security measures will cost the district. 

Ascension Parish School Board President Troy Gautreau said it’s up to the school board to find the needed resources.